October 29, 2008

Light Painting

(NOTE: This is a special post contributed by guest poster Lisa Bettany.)

Even if you are not familiar with the term light painting, you’ve probably already experimented with it. Have you ever swirled your camera around the twinkling lights on your Christmas tree to create spirals, shapes, or the initials of your name? Have you ever captured the twisting, turning trail of sweet glow sticks or a Poi spinner at some crazy full moon party in Thailand? Then you, my friend, are a light painter!

Light painting is a photographic technique where you physically ‘paint’ light into your camera frame during a long exposure, either by manipulating a light source like a flashlight, flash or by moving the camera around a light source.

During our star shoot at the Aperture Nature Photography Workshop, Scott Stulberg pointed out a beautiful Mormon barn and suggested that we light paint it.

Light paint a barn? Oh yes! The idea seemed crazy to rest of the group because many of us had little to no experience with light painting, but Scott was determined, so onward we went!

We set up in front of the barn and starting testing different settings. Because it was impossible to grab focus, I ran up close to the house and shone the headlamp on a window. Once Scotty got his focus set, we used these settings with his Canon 5D with the 16-35mm f/2.8 lens: 25s exposure, f/3.2, ISO 1250. We tried for a while but weren’t getting the light composition we wanted. It was too dark and the shot was a little flat:

Light Painted House (Jacksonhole, WY)

Martin was with us and suggested that we light up the barn using a short blast from a car’s headlights. So we moved a car about 200m away from the barn, angling the lights at the barn and the adjacent trees. Timing was a bit tricky, as the headlights could only be on for less than a second or they would blow out the shot like the photo below.

ANPW: Light painting a Mormon house

I took this view from the car on top of the hood. You can see the group setting up for the shot.

I was the gal in charge of turning the lights off and on so I didn’t get a chance to grab this shot. But here’s Scotty’s shot. He had a little extra light from a passing car. That is why the foreground is lit. Pretty cool effect, don’t you think?
Lightpainted Mormon Barn_ScottStulberg
Photo by Scott Stulberg. Settings with 14mm: 20s Exposure, f/2.8, ISO 800.

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This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store

Join the conversation! 26 Comments

  1. I love this form of photography. I think it would be a cool idea for the next TWIP contest!

    Reply
  2. I love this form of photography. I think it would be a cool idea for the next TWIP contest!

    Reply
  3. The iPhone makes a wonderful tool for light painting. Just grab one of the flashlight apps that changes colors and you can really have fun. This photo uses myLite (free) set to cycle through a range of colors. http://www.flickr.com/photos/gfurry/2900217295/

    Reply
  4. The iPhone makes a wonderful tool for light painting. Just grab one of the flashlight apps that changes colors and you can really have fun. This photo uses myLite (free) set to cycle through a range of colors. http://www.flickr.com/photos/gfurry/2900217295/

    Reply
  5. Good article, also like the suggestion about using an iPhone for a light in the comments.

    Reply
  6. Good article, also like the suggestion about using an iPhone for a light in the comments.

    Reply
  7. I also think that lightpainting should be a TWIP contest!

    Reply
  8. I also think that lightpainting should be a TWIP contest!

    Reply
  9. I’m curious how you know it was a “Mormon” barn, it looks like a typical barn to me. I like this light painting a lot, it’s different then the light drawing with LEDs, and I think this is a more useful light painting technique. Can’t wait to use it.

    Reply
  10. I’m curious how you know it was a “Mormon” barn, it looks like a typical barn to me. I like this light painting a lot, it’s different then the light drawing with LEDs, and I think this is a more useful light painting technique. Can’t wait to use it.

    Reply
  11. @Steve ahhh, ummm, probably because we saw a GREAT BIG SIGN outside the barn that said, “Mormon Row Barns.”
    :)

    Reply
  12. @Steve ahhh, ummm, probably because we saw a GREAT BIG SIGN outside the barn that said, “Mormon Row Barns.”
    :)

    Reply
  13. Awesome. The last shot looks like you’ve got one sun fading out behind the mountains and another one rising up to the left. Out of this world without any photoshop compositing, just great ideas guys! Very inspiring.

    Reply
  14. Awesome. The last shot looks like you’ve got one sun fading out behind the mountains and another one rising up to the left. Out of this world without any photoshop compositing, just great ideas guys! Very inspiring.

    Reply
  15. To be honest, I was quite surprised to discover an experienced, talented photographer such as yourself, Scott, had little or no experience with light painting! I have created some very nice images with it. I just assumed everybody has done it.

    Reply
  16. To be honest, I was quite surprised to discover an experienced, talented photographer such as yourself, Scott, had little or no experience with light painting! I have created some very nice images with it. I just assumed everybody has done it.

    Reply
  17. @Dan there are lots of kinds of photography I’ve never seriously tried – food and aerial are two examples. I can’t be good at everything :)

    It’s hard enough just finding time to go sit in blinds waiting for birds!

    Reply
  18. @Dan there are lots of kinds of photography I’ve never seriously tried – food and aerial are two examples. I can’t be good at everything :)

    It’s hard enough just finding time to go sit in blinds waiting for birds!

    Reply
  19. I do this all the time in low light and some times in broad daylight. Just pop up the flash and add some color and detail to the foreground. But; I have yet to try this at night (tripod needed) like these great shots.

    Reply
  20. I do this all the time in low light and some times in broad daylight. Just pop up the flash and add some color and detail to the foreground. But; I have yet to try this at night (tripod needed) like these great shots.

    Reply
  21. I went caving last year with a guy who built his own headlamp using 3W Luxeon LEDs (actually the one I saw was his 6th generation) and he used that for light painting.

    In the caves there is absolutely no light except what you take yourself, and light painting is the best way of illuminating the parts of a scene you want and showing the true darkness of the cave in the rest of the frame. Using other members of your party to side-light formations is also crucial.

    The photos that resulted from this trip were incredible, well worth experimenting with.

    Reply
  22. I went caving last year with a guy who built his own headlamp using 3W Luxeon LEDs (actually the one I saw was his 6th generation) and he used that for light painting.

    In the caves there is absolutely no light except what you take yourself, and light painting is the best way of illuminating the parts of a scene you want and showing the true darkness of the cave in the rest of the frame. Using other members of your party to side-light formations is also crucial.

    The photos that resulted from this trip were incredible, well worth experimenting with.

    Reply
  23. I tried something very similar to this while shooting lily pads and a tree in a small lake near my home. My method was mosty trial and error based on what I thought should be a predictable result.

    I took the 580EX II off of the 40D and test shot for the night exposure for right at 30 secs @ f/4. Once I got the ambient where I needed it, I used the mirror lockup and 10 sec timer to trip the shutter. I preset the flash to 35mm and painted the front pads by firing the test button on the back of the flash, using the built in diamond-cut filter on the flash. I put the filter up and fired again at the farthest pads. I fired one last time parallel to the water at the tree. I was really surprised at the result. The image is on my opening web page, just in case anyone is interested.

    Reply
  24. I tried something very similar to this while shooting lily pads and a tree in a small lake near my home. My method was mosty trial and error based on what I thought should be a predictable result.

    I took the 580EX II off of the 40D and test shot for the night exposure for right at 30 secs @ f/4. Once I got the ambient where I needed it, I used the mirror lockup and 10 sec timer to trip the shutter. I preset the flash to 35mm and painted the front pads by firing the test button on the back of the flash, using the built in diamond-cut filter on the flash. I put the filter up and fired again at the farthest pads. I fired one last time parallel to the water at the tree. I was really surprised at the result. The image is on my opening web page, just in case anyone is interested.

    Reply

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About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

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Technique & Tutorials

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